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Looking for online community

I’ve been flirting for the last couple of years. Don’t worry, this isn’t a confession. But, for the last two years, I’ve been flirting with getting rid of my Facebook account. Being a millennial, I joined in 2007, as it was taking off. It promised a way to stay connected, and an attractive way to retain a window into the lives of my friends, who were all choosing universities and heading off to different cities over the following year. But since then it’s lost its shine. Whether it’s owing to privacy concerns, or just that the level of relationship it allows you to maintain is often quite superficial, many of those friends that joined at the same time as me have left the platform.

I’m still there though and, beyond my contractual obligation to assist with maintaining TFT’s various online assets, I think the reason for that is the numerous Facebook groups I am involved in. TFT runs several private groups on various platforms that enable people scattered around the country to connect, share prayer requests and encourage one another. It turns out we aren’t the only ones, though. In fact, one thing that gave me the confidence to contact TFT for the first time was that I’d joined a large private online Facebook group, based in America, for gay/same-sex attracted Christians who hold to traditional sexual ethics. Talking to some of those Christians, who were trying to live faithfully in obedience to the Lord, made me think, “Wow, it would be great to have a group like this close to home”, and so I joined TFT. 

Online groups can remind us we’re not alone, that we’re part of a wider family and that we serve a greater God

In the wider Christian arena, there are groups for discussing theology, for ministers in training, for monitoring current issues affecting the church, and much more. Not a fan of Facebook? There are groups on platforms such as Discord too. The irony of the name Discord is not lost on me, as sometimes these communities can be far from harmonious. While I enjoy several of the groups that I’m part of, they have their pros and cons. Here are some things that I’m regularly reminded of as I use them:

We need to look up

It may seem obvious, but social media is a great place to procrastinate. I’m certainly no stranger to the endless scroll as I consume more content. If you’re in a large or busy group, this can be even worse. If you consume most of your social media on your phone and are an iPhone or Android user, you might like to look in your phone settings. You’ll find information on how much time you spend using certain apps in a day. If you’re someone who struggles to find time to pray or read the Bible each day, it can be eye-opening, seeing how it all adds up. It’s important we don’t allow social media to mis-prioritise our time.

We need to look out

Online groups are great places to turn to for advice. In early 2020, as we entered the first lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic, church leaders had to rethink how to do church overnight. I saw many threads as people discussed how various churches were managing the response. How does one even set up a live stream anyway? Online groups give us access to people with experience and giftings that we might not otherwise have available in our local context. As you’re helping people out with advice on a pastoral situation or talking about new resources, you can’t help but feel as though you’re part of something bigger.

We need to look on

Online groups can be a great focus for unity in the face of opposition. Christians who adhere to traditional biblical ethics face this both within and outside the church. Whenever something happens in the news that might challenge the church’s historic teaching, groups can be places that encourage prayerful consideration of the matters at hand and can even be where some responses we see in the media are formed. They remind us we’re not alone, that we’re part of a wider family and that we serve a greater God.

We need to look like Christ

Seeing people help one another in order to advance the kingdom of God here on Earth reminds us of the best of ourselves, but groups can remind us of the worst too. Sometimes discussion and engagement can be far from gracious. So often it is in community that our sin is revealed to us, and online communities are no exception. I’ve seen people lash out in anger, put one another down and discredit those around them. Online, just as in real life, we have to work to ensure our conduct is befitting of someone living for Jesus. Online groups remind us of our brokenness, but also our great need for the saviour that makes us whole.

This article was originally published in the summer 2022 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.

Download the summer 2022 edition of Ascend